Needle envy? Bellevue eyes five towers

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Seattle has its Space Needle, but what sort of symbol would be synonymous with Bellevue?

How about five needles? Eager for their own internationally known landmark, officials in Bellevue have begun talking about whether to build five 250-foot tall spires in the city's downtown. The structures wouldn't be as tall or elaborate as Seattle's famed remnant of the 1962 World's Fair, but proponents hope they would become equally recognizable.

The structures, a quarter-mile apart, would line Northeast Sixth Street — Bellevue's new east-west pedestrian promenade — between Bellevue Square and Interstate 405. They would be visible from freeways and illuminated at night.

"We've heard a lot of people talk about when they travel different places in the world, people say, 'We're from Seattle.' People want to say they're from Bellevue. They want a postcard image," said Chris Mullen, a project manager with the Collins-Woerman consulting firm of Bellevue.

Arlan Collins, a Bellevue consultant, unveiled the idea yesterday to the Downtown Implementation Plan advisory committee, a group of 35 business, political and neighborhood leaders writing a 20-year redevelopment plan.

Developer Bob Wallace said the spires "would be like Reno's 'Biggest Little City in the World' sign but classier."

The concept was inspired by Bellevue's ubiquitous construction cranes, which Collins and his colleagues watch through windows of their high-rise office. They seemed an apt symbol for a city which, in just 49 years since incorporation, developed from pastures to a vibrant city of 111,500 people.

The first tower would be next to the Bellevue Art Museum, with the next three rising uphill to the east. The fifth tower would be next to the Meydenbauer Center and Interstate 405, completing a sort of spine.

At 250 feet, the towers would be a noticeable addition to the skyline but considerably shorter than the city's tallest building, a 450-foot high-rise under construction at Lincoln Square. At the highest elevation, on 108th Avenue Northeast, a spire would poke 425 feet above sea level, about two-thirds as high as the 605-foot Space Needle.

The spires are among many brainstorms aimed at making downtown a livelier, more creative place. But not everyone thinks Bellevue needs its own needles.

Medina resident Vicki Newman said they remind her of the mammoth Oriental Pearl Tower in Shanghai — "nothing original, not very attractive, not very reflective of 'a city in a garden.' "

For others, the idea isn't ambitious enough.

Bellevue Square owner Kemper Freeman, Jr. suggests that instead of five equal-size spires, one should be substantially taller. "Something as tall as the Space Needle, at least ... " he said. "This would be a center, a beacon for the entire Eastside."

And at an open house Tuesday, one observer left a note that read, "Let's get better parking first."

Mike Lindblom can be reached at 206-515-5631 or